The suggestions and guidelines have been coming more frequently and from a number of different sources. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and various governmental entities have made it very clear, this year, Thanksgiving should not be celebrated in the usual manner. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, (NIAID), said that “large, indoor gatherings and dinners, especially with people from outside your immediate family poses the highest risk (of infection)”. Dr. Fauci recommends limiting the Thanksgiving dinner to the immediate family that you live with. “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others”. Dr. Fauci will celebrate with extended family via zoom, and encourages others to do the same. He suggests that if people host more than immediate family, shorter gatherings are better than longer ones, houses should be well ventilated, alcohol, which clouds judgment should be limited, and masks should be worn as much as possible.
You may wonder, can we even have a “Happy Thanksgiving” with all of these limitations and restrictions? This is an important question, as it goes to the very essence of the day. If Thanksgiving is enjoyable because it is a day to get together with family and friends and have large festive dinners, the absence of family and friends would make for a largely joyless affair. But if the day is meant to be a day of thanks in which we appreciate all of our blessings, then the absence of family and friends, as disappointing as it may be, does not have to ruin your Thanksgiving.
How can you have a happy Thanksgiving during the pandemic?
Focus on all the blessings in your life. Tragically, more than a million people have died from COVID-19, but you are not one of them. That is a reason for thanks. If you are fortunate enough to have family that you want to spend Thanksgiving with, even if it can’t happen this year, that’s a reason to be thankful too. Are you married? Do you have someone to share your life with? We should be thankful for all of the people we love, our spouses, our parents, our children, our grandparents, our siblings and our friends.
How is your health? Can you hear, can you see, can you smell, can you taste, can you walk, can you talk? Do you have children? Were they born healthy? Health is a priceless blessing. If you’re not sure, just ask someone who isn’t healthy, or has a sick child.
Do you live in the United States or another country that is free, democratic and enjoying decades of peace? Are you employed? Do you earn enough money to pay your bills? After paying your bills do you have a little money left over to save, invest, or purchase luxury items? Do you have a retirement account? Is it tied to the stock market and has it increased in value? Do you own your home? Do you take at least one vacation a year?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you are among the top one percent of people in the entire world. How can you be thankful this Thanksgiving amidst the pandemic? Just focus on all of your blessings. In truth, this should not be an annual exercise limited to the last Thursday of November. Ideally, we should express our gratitude for the blessings in our life on a daily basis. We should express our gratitude daily because being appreciative is the right thing to do, and because it will make us happier, more satisfied people.
Rabbi Reuven Epstein